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Violence in Video Games
Throughout its relatively brief history, the video game industry has faced many ethical issues and dilemmas.
Violent content. Addiction. Gambling. Ownership of virtual property. Copyright and intellectual property. And many others.
To deal with many of these issues, the video games industry formed two organizations.
The Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA)
In 1993, the video games industry was embroiled in a battle with the U.S. government over violence and inappropriate content of games like Mortal Kombat and others.
“Two things became obvious to people very quickly. One was that the industry ought to attempt to come up with a self-regulatory response to congressional concerns about content; and the second was that it ought to consider creating a trade association to represent its interests.”
- Douglas Lowenstein, president of IDSA
The Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA)
The Software Publishers Association, which at the time represented the video games industry, failed to support it in its struggles. So, game companies struck out on their own. IDSA was formed in 1994 to serve the business and public affairs needs of companies that produce and develop video games.
Founding companies included Nintendo, Sega, Acclaim, Electronic Arts, Phillips, Atari, and 3DO. In 2003, IDSA members accounted for 90% of the video games market in the U.S.
Entertainment software rating. Business and consumer research. World-wide anti-piracy programs. Intellectual property protection. To support this last function. IDSA formed the Entertainment Software Rating Board (the ESRB) in 1994. 5 .The Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA) IDSA represented the video game industry in a variety of ways: Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). Government relations.
IDSA changed its name to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). but felt this rebranding would help improve its services.The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) In the summer of 2003. The ESA is still committed to the same mission as IDSA. 6 .
and online privacy principles adopted by the industry. the ESRB has rate more that 8. The ESRB independently applies and enforces ratings.The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) The ESRB was formed in 1994 by IDSA to act as a self-regulatory body for the video game industry. It was felt that self-regulation would be preferable to government imposed regulation.000 titles submitted by more than 350 publishers. advertising guidelines. 7 . To date.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)
ESRB ratings have two parts:
A rating symbol suggesting the age group that the game is appropriate for. This provides general information about the game‟s content. Multiple content descriptors providing additional details on game content. These include alcohol references, blood, drug references, gambling, mature humour, mild or strong language, sexual content, violence, tobacco references, and so on.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)
Early childhood, for ages 3 and up. Contains no inappropriate content. Everyone, suitable for ages 6 and older. May contain minimal or comic violence or crude language. Mature, for ages 17 and older. May contain mature sexual themes or intense violence and language.
Teen; content suitable for ages 13 and older. May contain violence, mild language, and suggestive themes.
Adults only; content suitable only for adults 18 and older. May contain graphic depictions of sex and/or violence.
Rating pending; the product has been sent to the ESRB and is awaiting its final rating.
Video Game Violence
One of the first issues faced by the video game industry was that of violent content in video games.
The issue dates back as early as 1976 with Exidy Games‟ Death Race, but has been revisited many times since then.
The central question remains: Does violent content in video games promote or encourage violent behaviour in game players?
Understandably, there are a variety of opinions on this subject …
Video Game Violence
Screen shot from Mortal Kombat. Sub-Zero has fallen to his doom in a pit of spikes and a shower of blood. (The heads on the right are images of two of the lead developers of the game.)
including children and elderly women with walkers. 12 .Video Game Violence Screen shot from Carmageddon.000 people. When you have completed all levels of the game. as shown above. you will have had the chance to kill roughly 33.
This gore-fest has incited lots of objections around the world from people concerned about violent content in games.Video Game Violence Screen shot from Manhunt. 13 .
Many of the recent well-publicized incidents of youth violence. 14 . involved children who played violent games extensively (Doom. players tend to be rewarded for exhibiting violent behaviour. Some studies have shown that violent video games can desensitize children to violence or induce hostile or aggressive actions.Video Game Violence Those against violence in video games have this to say: Studies show that roughly 80% of games preferred by young people have violent or aggressive content. Games portray violence as justified.). etc. with no negative effects shown. In fact. such as Columbine.
aged 17.Video Game Violence Screen shot from Halo. The Beltway Sniper investigation found that John Muhammad had John Lee Malvo. to improve skills and break down inhibitions to kill. trained for sniping people using the sniper mode on Halo. 15 .
allegedly played this game extensively to prepare to beat Jo Lynn Mishne to death. Dustin Lynch. for no reason. as is often done in game. aged 15. according to witnesses. He then stole her car.Video Game Violence Screen shot from Grand Theft Auto III. 16 .
Video Game Violence Screen shot from Grand Theft Auto III. shooting at highway vehicles. Stepbrothers William and Joshua Buckner were arrested for a rampage they patterned after the game. killing one person. 17 . and wounding another.
David Grossman. And we are teaching them to like it. for killing people. in a recent ABC News interview.Lt. U.Video Game Violence “We are teaching children to associate pleasure with human death and suffering. 18 . Army psychologist who specialized in training soldiers to kill without hesitation. Col.S. We are rewarding them.” .
and claims that violence is harmless: There are many studies also carried out by reputable scientists that indicate that there is no correlation between violence in games and violence or aggressive behaviour. Roughly 68% of games are rated “E” for Everyone.Video Game Violence Naturally. Violent crime among young people has decreased dramatically since 1990. 19 . the ESA disagrees with these points of view. Sixteen of the top 20 best selling games of 2002 were rated “E” or “T” for teen. while video game popularity has increased at the same time.
or because it shocks.Video Game Violence Perhaps Brian Moriarty put it best in a talk at the 1998 Game Developers Conference: "If you want to include violence in your games … put your heart and soul into it. but because you need dissonance." 20 . do it with awareness – not because violence is easy. and you know how and why it strengthens your game.
and. a common concern of parents whose children played video games has been that their children spent far too much time playing them. failure at school. loss of work. 21 Are such games potentially addictive? . death have been attributed to these games.Addiction to Video Games For many years. the issue has gone from “too much time” to addiction. With the advent of online gaming with Everquest and similar games. breakdowns of relationships. in at least one case. In some cases.
Addiction to Video Games Video of segment from The Early Show. 22 . Correspondent Jon Frankel examines the issue of addiction with the video game Everquest (or Evercrack as it is sometimes known). which airs on CBS. and potentially tragic outcomes.
including that of Everquest. Reporter Susan Spencer investigated many addictions and their effects. aired on CBS. 23 .Addiction to Video Games Video from a 48 Hours segment.
who claims that Everquest addicted and nearly destroyed his 15 year old son. 24 .Addiction to Video Games Video from an Entertainment Tonight segment interviewing actor/comedian Ben Stein.
In August 2003. 25 . unaware of her daughter‟s location or predicament. three-year-old Brianna Cordell died from heatstroke in a locked car while her mother allegedly played Everquest inside.Addiction to Video Games Screen shot from Everquest.
Lonely or sexually anorexic. 26 .Addiction to Video Games Psychologists and counselors tend to agree that there are certain characteristics may make some people vulnerable to gaming addictions: Isolation. Prone to boredom. Depression. Low self esteem or poor body image. Social awkwardness.
so there is added incentive to stay longer. which leads to “a false sense of relationships and identity”. With no closure. The level of immersion can be very high. 27 . drawing people in and not letting go. it is easy for players to get involved. there is a social component. The games have no distinct end to them. Many games are difficult to leave. and not come out.Addiction to Video Games Game design can also be a big factor. In online games.
They need to come with a warning label „Warning. co-founder of Internet/Computer Addiction Services: “The manufacturer of Everquest purposely made it in such a way that it is more intriguing to the addict. But. It could be created in a less addictive way. they are all the same. extensive playing could be hazardous to your health.‟” 28 .Addiction to Video Games According to Jay Parker. but (that) would be the difference between powdered cocaine and crack cocaine … I‟ve seen a lot of wreckage because of Everquest. It‟s like cigarettes.
Addiction to Video Games David Walsh. It‟s a coming together of a number of circumstances. Both can be harmful if abused. president of the National Institute on Media and the Family adds: “Could a person get so engrossed that they become so distressed and distraught that it could put them over the edge? It probably has something to do with the game. but rather compared playing games to drinking alcohol. But your average person or average gamer won‟t do this.” Walsh further adds that games are not inherently bad. 29 .
also cocreator of Everquest. disagrees and says calling Everquest addictive is nonsense: “It‟s entertainment.Addiction to Video Games Sony Online CEO John Smedley.‟ It‟s a game. you know.” 30 . „Hey. People need to take responsibility and say. Enough‟s enough. Is a book dangerous? Is a TV show dangerous? I think the answer is no. this is too much.
And I don‟t think there‟s a role for us in trying to shepherd those people. they have added an alarm clock that allows players to set their own limits. Smedley adds: “I think that in any form of entertainment. there‟s going to be people that are going to take things to extremes that maybe they shouldn‟t.” 31 . Sony has declined. Instead.Addiction to Video Games In response to calls for warning labels.
Addiction to Video Games Picture of the Time-Scout. of course. (Until. This device can limit the amount of time spent using a gaming device through card access. This gives parents some rudimentary control over a child‟s gaming habits. the power to the gaming device is cut. they just plug the device back 32 into a regular power outlet!) It‟s still a step forward though … . and can let game addicts police themselves as well. When the time allocated on the card runs out.
Alleged links between video games and gambling. That did not stop some manufacturers from producing gambling games.Gambling The spectre of gambling has plagued the video game industry since its beginnings. 33 . Even without links to organized crime. and between gambling and organized crime caused many headaches to the early industry. many people feel that gambling is immoral and bad for society.
Gambling Screen shot from Champion Skill. One of many gambling video games to appear over the years. are they a good thing. or a bad thing? 34 . But.
With the advent of the Internet. gambling video games were typically confined to casinos. 35 . Video poker. virtual slots.Gambling In the past. many video game based casinos have cropped up on various websites. and many other kinds of games. virtual roulette. In most cases. spreading gambling through games significantly. such casinos are housed in “questionable” locations to avoid legal issues and ramifications.
or surf to the casino site to play. 36 .Gambling Sample pop-up add from an Internet casino. You can either download games.
37 .Gambling Sample casino interface from an Internet based casino. In this case. you would download a game client to your computer to play the games.
are beginning to push the issue of gambling back into the gaming industry. Some recent turns of events. Consumers have also disassociated video games and gambling. and largely ignored by mainstream video game developers. and no longer see them as related. Video game gambling has become a niche market driven and maintained by casinos.Gambling While the morality of gambling is still quite debatable. it has not had much impact on the rest of the video game industry in recent years. 38 . however.
Gambling Recently. these sites have permission of the game developer. 39 . however. or loss. while money is lost with every death. damage. many websites have started up to facilitate betting and gambling on the outcome of popular mainstream game titles. Others. Money is earned on every kill or victory. do not. In some cases.
Gambling You Play Games is one of many websites to facilitate betting and gambling in mainstream video game titles. 40 .
You can now play this game for real money.Gambling Screen shot from Return to Castle Wolfenstein. 41 . Id Software signed an exclusive deal with You Play Games for this title to be the premier game offered on their site.
at what costs will it come? What social and legal ramifications will this have on these companies. considering its history with gambling. 42 . While it may be a profitable venture for these companies. While these sites claim to avoid this.Gambling This is a hazardous undertaking by the gaming industry. and the industry in general? In the past. parents sued Wizards of the Coast and Nintendo claiming that Pokémon was a form of child gambling. it is likely they will face some form of challenge in the future.
however. 43 .Professional Gamers? Some avid game players are calling themselves “professional gamers”. it is becoming possible to do exactly this. There are. more legitimate ways to be a professional gamer. With the ability for gamers to play through gambling sites and earn money through wagers. These people earn their primary income from playing (not testing) video games.
Some are spending a lot of money as prizes in events (Nvidia has put up more than $500. as in professional sports. Many companies like Nvidia and ATI sponsor teams or individual players. (Sorry.000). and AMD has put up more than $300. only the big ones so far!) 44 .000 this past year at various events. Some hardware companies are seeking sponsorships of LAN parties and similar events.Professional Gamers? Hardware makers and other gaming companies are starting to put up serious cash for professional gamers and gaming events.
000 Counter Strike World Cup. The biggest prize was for the $35. At the event in July 2003. Not only were there a lot of game players. but there were also a very large number of spectators in attendance.Professional Gamers? A good example of a legitimate venue for pros is the Electronic Sports World Cup (ESWC).000 US was awarded to players of Counter Strike. 45 . and watching over the Internet. over $150. Quake III. Warcraft III. and Unreal Tournament 2003. awarded to the best team.
000 US in prizes. many gaming leagues have formed in recent years. Examples include the Professional Gamers League (PGL) and the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL). Obtaining sponsors and corporate support. 46 . and an attendance of over 5000 people). the Summer 2003 CPL event in Dallas had over $150.Professional Gamers? To support professional gamers. These leagues can provide many services to professional gamers. And so on. Both leagues have many chapters. Organizing events (for example.
Professional Gamers? A video segment from TechTV on professional gaming and the CPL. 47 .
how much should a professional gamer make? Should there be any kind of support outside of leagues for this? Many people would likely frown on this though … 48 .Professional Gamers? Some questions to ponder: Is this something to encourage? After all. how is this any different than more traditional professional sports? If this is something on par with professional sports. what good comes from just playing games? On the other hand.
The game developer. In essence. and keep them stored on their game servers. 49 . they created the items and characters.Ownership of Virtual Property With the advent of persistence in online games an interesting question has arisen: Who owns the virtual items and characters used within the game world? There are two sides to this: The game players. they have earned these items and characters. In paying for the game and playing it.
For example.Ownership of Virtual Property You might wonder why this is such an important issue for both parties. The reason is that items and characters from popular games have real value to them. Norath also had an hourly rage of $3.42 and a GNP of about $135 million. 50 . at one time. roughly that of Bulgaria. Game players have taken their items and characters and sold them on eBay and other popular auction sites for considerable money. the virtual land of Norath from Everquest ranked 77th on the list of richest countries in the world. based totally on commerce generated outside the game world on eBay. per capita.
there was 2872 virtual items for sale on the auction site. 51 .Ownership of Virtual Property eBay auction listing for Ultima Online. At the time.
Sony Online Entertainment has blocked the sale of Everquest items on eBay. Many legal battles have ensued. they claim that they own the game items and characters. Many other game companies are attempting to take similar steps. 52 .Ownership of Virtual Property Game companies claim such auctions and sales corrupt the fabric of the game and defeats the purpose of playing it in the first place. Besides. and that the players have no legal rights to sell them.
53 . People are then paid minimal wages and no benefits to work non-stop in squalid conditions to collect items or build up game characters that are sold or auctioned off at substantial profits to the company. there has been a rise recently in companies operating “item-accumulating sweatshops”.Ownership of Virtual Property On a related and disturbing note. The conditions are very much like sweatshops. Mexico or Internet Gaming Entertainment in Hong Kong). A company sets up a location in an area with relatively impoverished people (allegedly including the likes of Black Snow in Tijuana. and there are no regulations on these operations.
but alleged reports of sweatshop operations makes one feel sorry for the real primates doing 54 item collection and character development work for them.Ownership of Virtual Property A self-declared “staff” photo posted recently by Internet Gaming Entertainment. . It would be nice if their staff did consist of monkeys.
Personally.Copyright and Intellectual Property Don‟t Copy That Floppy … A 1992 film produced by the Software Publisher‟s Association to inspire people to not copy computer games. it just 55 inspires me not to watch films put out by the SPA. .
S.600 new high quality games could have been produced. costs due to piracy are sometimes passed on to consumers.2 billion a year due to video game software piracy. With the money lost to piracy. it is estimated that 1. 56 . game developers lose $3. increasing the average game cost as a result.Copyright and Intellectual Property According to the ESA: U. Furthermore.
no CD/DVD drive. no USB ports.Copyright and Intellectual Property Artist‟s rendition of the Phantom game console under development by Infinium Labs. Games are loaded on to the console through a broadband Internet connection direct to Infinium Labs‟ own servers. no floppy drive. It is purportedly based on a PC system with a large hard drive (with proprietary encryption). and so on. they 57 hope to avoid game copying … good luck with that! . Through this.
regardless of the purposes for which it is downloaded. provided that this copy is not sold or distributed. it is still protected by copyright. 58 . since a copy is still made. even if it is not used. Downloading a copyrighted work is illegal. Even when a game is no longer available commercially. Downloading a copyrighted work never constitutes fair use and remains a copyright infringement.Copyright and Intellectual Property Legal perspectives on copyright: It is legal to create a backup copy of a game. Copyright laws do not allow for any unauthorized test periods of registered works.
from software piracy. however. what about the intellectual property rights of individual developers within a game company? 59 . the interests of game developers are protected. to a certain extent. That said. The intellectual property of developers cannot be legally copied.Copyright and Intellectual Property Through the help of organizations such as the ESA.
or using company resources and equipment. and through the exclusive use of your own resources! 60 . if you develop a game of your own independently during company time. Furthermore.Copyright and Intellectual Property In most cases. If you want to ensure rights to a game. you must develop it independently on your own time. the employer retains all rights to intellectual property created during game development. your employer may have legal rights to your game as well.
it is most definitely worth your while to speak to an experienced legal professional. 61 .Copyright and Intellectual Property Remember: I AM NOT A LAWYER! If you have questions or concerns.
Emulation Emulation refers to the process of using software to imitate the functionality provided by hardware or other software. Typically. while the players are very much for it. game companies are against this. 62 . and many other things. It has also been used to emulate software layers for graphics libraries. this has generally been used to emulate arcade or console hardware to allow their games to be played on other platforms. The gaming community has been very divided over this issue over the years. In gaming.
allowing one to play arcade games from ‟88 Games to Zzyzzyxx. MAME is perhaps one of the most famous and popular emulators.Emulation Screen shot from MAME. 63 . the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator.
degrading. or becoming incredibly rare. or adding network play. by improving processor speed. 64 . increasing graphics resolution. Emulation can enhance many games. Emulation lets people play games on the platform of their choice. as the original hardware is failing. instead of being bound to original hardware requirements.Emulation Proponents of emulation support it for many reasons: Emulation saves games from disappearing forever.
65 . and then it‟s game over … permanently.Emulation Screen shot from Marvel Super Heroes. Like all of Capcom‟s CPS2 arcade games. the game lasts for about 5 years. a “suicide battery” essentially kills the game when it runs out. If left unplugged.
Emulation Opponents of emulation have their reasons too: Most people who use emulators do not own the software used in the emulator. these people are violating copyright. In some cases. 66 . emulators are using or infringing on intellectual property owned by others and protected by law. In other cases. emulators require ROM or BIOS data that is itself copyright protected. As a result.
This. of course. of course.Emulation Many companies. In almost all cases. The exceptions. stating that there is nothing inherently illegal in emulating hardware using software. however. instead of cutting off the emulators themselves. is a much more difficult problem. 67 . were in the cases where emulation was made possible through improperly used or licensed intellectual property. the courts have ruled on the side of emulators. including Sony and Nintendo have sued or threatened legal action over the development of emulators. Companies must pursue copyright violation using the traditional methods.
Midway lets you play several of their classic titles on their website using emulation. for their own purposes. 68 . Midway and Namco are including emulated versions of their classics in updates of their titles for modern consoles.Emulation Many game companies are now using emulators. Nintendo is using emulation to allow NES and Super NES titles to be played on their Game Cube and Game Boy systems.
This title includes emulated versions of the original Pac-Man. Pac-Man. Pac-Mania. and Pac-Attack from the arcade.Emulation Screen shot from Pac-Man World 2 for the Xbox. 69 . Ms.
70 Does this mean emulation in the future will be totally up to the game companies? . Any third party trying to market and sell an emulation product will most certainly face legal action. Most current emulation projects are free hobby projects by independent developers. and quite unable to defend themselves from legal attacks. With the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).Emulation The future of emulation is as cloudy as ever. and subject to prosecution. circumventing encryption of modern game systems to emulate them is quasi-illegal.
71 . which had a “lockout chip” that prevented unauthorized cartridges from working. Such methods date back to the original NES. These mechanisms are primarily aimed at regulating game developers to adhere to licensing and quality control methods. and preventing the copying of games.Hacking and Modding Consoles Most modern consoles have some form of protection to prevent unauthorized games from running on them.
Hacking and Modding Consoles The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). found a way around it. but took a large chunk of the profits at the same time. Nintendo sued for copyright infringement and eventually won the lawsuit in 1991. and bypassed Nintendo altogether. Atari formed a new division called Tengen to create games for the NES. 72 . Nintendo‟s licensing got Tengen around the NES‟s lockout chip. Tengen reverse engineered the chip. So.
73 . console owners can use unauthorized software in their console without much difficulty. the protection mechanism can be defeated. With a mod chip in place. several companies now sell “mod chips”. By soldering or inserting these chips into a console like a Playstation or Xbox.Hacking and Modding Consoles To circumvent protection mechanisms on modern consoles.
Hacking and Modding Consoles Picture of the Matrix mod chip for the Xbox. Ads for such chips are common around the Internet these days. 74 . This mod chip sports features such as solder-free insertion and flash upgradeability.
and emulators. This includes new games. multimedia software. 75 . operating systems (like Linux). The ability to use home-brew or hobby software on their console.Hacking and Modding Consoles Console owners claim several “legitimate” benefits to modded consoles: The ability to play import titles and movies from other countries. The ability to make and play back-ups of their own games in case of failure.
Some companies have been relatively supportive of the home-brew and hobby communities with Sega and its Dreamcast and Sony and its Linux kits for Playstation 2 hardware.Hacking and Modding Consoles The console manufacturers are generally against modding efforts. While a portion of owners may have good intentions. most just want the ability to play illegal copies of games or movies. is modding still necessary? 76 . With this support.
Some groups have set up distributed computation projects (similar to Seti@Home) to break encryption keys on console hardware such as the Xbox. Things will likely get worse before a solution acceptable for legitimate use is agreed upon. Other similar attacks against Nintendo and Sony hardware are also possible.Hacking and Modding Consoles The hacking and modding scene is less stable than ever before. retailers. Lawsuits have been launched against mod chip manufacturers. Hackers have discovered buffer overflow attacks to boot unauthorized software (Linux) on unmodded Xbox hardware in many ways. and websites. 77 .
Virtual Civil Disobedience As a final note. if game players disagree with a certain ethical issue as it pertains to a video game. Virtual civil disobedience in the game‟s virtual world! Surprisingly enough. they now have a new choice. and people already have plans for it again in the future. it has already happened before. 78 .
When the developer essentially ignored complaints. the protest eventually resulted in changes. game players organized and held a naked riot to protest the situation. players demanded bug fixes and server upgrades. perhaps in part to the negative publicity generated by the event. They stormed Lord British‟s castle (the home of the in-game ruler). and trashed the place. and the situation improved. Ultima Online: Back in 1997.Virtual Civil Disobedience For example. drunk themselves silly. 79 . Amazingly.
While this is not a shot of the original naked riot. you can imagine what it would be like! 80 .Virtual Civil Disobedience Screen shot from Ultima Online.
the Sims Online. 81 . Many consumer organizations have been critical over the sale of advertising space within the Sims Online virtual world. Companies such as Intel and McDonalds have purchased rights for in game use. From a press release: “Players in the game … will be able to buy a McDonald‟s kiosk and sell the company‟s branded food products. earning „simoleons‟.” People that object to this have protested online. Eating that food will also improve their standing within the game. the game‟s currency.Virtual Civil Disobedience As another example.
Virtual Civil Disobedience Screen shot from the Sims Online. 82 . This shows a couple of sample McDonald‟s kiosks available in the game.